Breast cancer in the Gulf region is more aggressive and affects people 10 years younger than elsewhere, a top scientist has told Gulf Times.
“Some genetic and environmental factors must be the reason, we are looking into these factors,” said Professor Omar El-Agnaf, acting executive director of Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), one of the three research institutes under Hamad Bin Khalifa University.
QBRI research is mainly focused on cancer, diabetes and neurological disorders, he explained. “QBRI is engaged in basic and applied medical research that strongly supports the translation of novel scientific discoveries into more efficient therapies and better preventative strategies for human diseases, ultimately leading to the development of Personalised Medicine.”
Professor El-Agnaf told that the QBRI’s Cancer Research Centre focuses on breast cancer, a major problem in Qatar. “We have research groups focusing on the complexities of breast cancer using genetics, genomics, epigenetic tools trying to understand the mechanism of the disease. We also have several groups focusing on cancer immunotherapy specifically for breast cancer,” he stressed.
Regarding diabetes, another major focus for QBRI, professor El-Agnaf pointed out that about 25 to 30% of the population in Qatar and the region is affected by diabetes in various stages. “We are looking at the reasons behind it such as genetics, environmental, lifestyle among others,” highlighted the official.
“We need to understand the problems from the patients directly which will help us in tackling the problem. We work very closely with physicians from Hamad Medical Corporation. We have joint research programmes funded by QBRI as well as with funding from Qatar National Research Fund,” he noted.
“We collect samples from the blood or tissues of the patients. When we tackle genomics and genetics, we use a different approach. We use epigenetics which nobody does in the region as we aim to tackle things from a different angle. There is no one particular gene behind the disease,” he maintained.
“Stems cells will be used in diabetes to generate iPS cells (Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells) which are perpetrators of stem cells. Those iPS cells can be differentiated to any type of cells, either to pancreas or any form of cells. We use stem cells from the patients to study and understand the diseases mechanism, and also for drug screening.”
Professor El-Agnaf added that QBRI aims to transform health in Qatar and the wider region, and create a global hub for translational medicine.
Prof. Omar El-Agnaf